Saturday, July 29, 2006

Lay down and drown in this happiness...

I don't know about you, but every few years, I'll stumble across a band that completely turns my tastes and perceptions regarding music upside-down. I've always been fascinated by the flowchart of how one artist will lead you to another, and which sounds, once they've hit your ears, will send you off in unknown, unexpected such band for me, many years ago, were San Francisco's Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. Today's installment of ETG! begins a three-part special on the Fellers, as there's just too much to share in a single installment, and I didn't wanna overwhelm you all at once or anything...

Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 had a huge impact on me when I first discovered them in the early 90's, as they literally sounded like nothing I'd heard before. Sure, they were a rock band, and had guitars at the core of their sound, but they also took cues from artists like Captain Beefheart and Zappa, being utterly unafraid to twist their songs inside-out, fuck with tempos and time-changes, and throw all sorts of freaky, funny psychosis into the mix.

The first seeds of the Thinking Fellers were planted when Brian Hageman, Mark Davies and Anne Eickelberg moved themselves from Iowa City (where they'd each played with bands such as Pink Gravy and Horny Genius) to San Francisco in 1986. Shoehorned into a one-bedroom apartment in El Cerrito, they began (according to their self-penned bio) consuming generic burgundy and listening to two different big-band radio stations simultaneously. Songs were written, noise was made, and an irate next-door-neighbor eventually forced them out of the garage and into the the Gilman Street Project, where they could make as much racket as they wanted . The trio was soon joined by Hugh Swarts and Paul Bergmann, previous bandmates from various Iowa City groups, and in a hasty scramble to name themselves before their debut show at Gilman, drunkenly pulled the moniker of Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 out of their asses. They claimed they'd come up with "something better" for a band name. They never did.

In 1987, the five Fellers moved into a home together near a freeway overpass in Oakland, where they remained for the next three years. They also hooked up with longtime producer Greg Freeman, and put out their first release, a cassette entitled Wormed by Leonard. Their early recordings were chaotic affairs, jagged and unpredictable, with unexpected angles and terrifying moodswings. Ghostly one minute and feral the next, their songs were loaded up with fuzzed-out banjos, blasts of organ and chewy wads of distortion. The first thing I often think of when I hear the Fellers is disease, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. They simply sound infected. If a song could foam at the mouth and roll its eyeballs back in its head, then these early tunes were likely candidates for rabies shots.

The band released its debut album Tangle on their own label, Thwart Productions, in 1989, and were joined by drummer Jay Paget in 1990 after Bergmann departed due to family commitments. Another dense, weird batch of hallucinatory freak-outs, Tangle's standout was undoubtedly the white-knuckled dementia of "Sports Car", 5:18 of spittle-flecked, teeth-gnashing mania. Oh, and it's catchy as hell, too.

Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 - Sports Car (MP3, 196kbps (VBR), 7.5MB)

In 1990, the band signed to the then-fledgling Matador Records, and unleashed the cracked brilliance of Lovelyville upon their listening audience the following year. Here were fifteen chunks of sprawling, shuddering invention, and you even got a truly creepy cover version of Sugarloaf's "Green Eyed Lady" for the price of admission, too. Tacked onto the CD release was the 7-track EP, "The Crowded Diaper", featuring what some fans like to refer to as "Feller-filler": snippets of studio randomness, disconnected ramblings and atmospheric noodlings. Your appreciation of these kinds of scraps is probably pretty closely related to how funny you find either the sound of oboes/flatulence or titles like "The Wonderbread Display".

Here's a track from Lovelyville that shows off the Fellers doing what they do best, I'd say...sounding both fucking out-of-their-minds as well as surprisingly, unexpectedly beautiful. I don't even want to ruin the fun by heaping a bunch of wanky verbiage on top of it before it hits your ears, so I'm just gonna post the damn song and let you sort it all out yourself. Please listen carefully for the squawking seal barking before the song careens into its majestic slo-mo crescendo and lovely coda. It makes me laugh every time I hear it, even after all these years.

Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 - More Glee (MP3, 192kbps, 8.7MB)

We'll return on Tuesday, August 1st with another couple offerings from the Fellers, centering around their 1992-94 period, and featuring selections from the Mother Of All Saints double-LP, as well as the Admonishing The Bishops EP, which contains, in fact, my favorite song of all time.

See you then...!

1 comment:

jon manyjars said...

Wow. Thank you, thank you! Looking forward to the rest of this series. I know so little about the Fellers, this really helps.